Memo to Governors: Make State University Admissions More Charter and Home-School Friendly

With the rapid growth of charter and home-schooling, the traditional SAT and ACT college entrance exams no longer adequately measure the learning and potential of many applicants. A third admissions test—the Classic Learning Test—is a better choice for many of these students, but to date only one public university (Virginia’s Christopher Newport University) accepts it. That failure should be corrected before the 2023 admissions season.

The reason is equal treatment. The school choice movement arose in response to widespread concern about K-12 education. The Reagan administration’s 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report famously concluded, “If an unfriendly foreign power had attempted to impose on America the mediocre educational performance that exists today, we might well have viewed it as an act of war.” 

Since then, two main approaches to K-12 education have emerged—a standard curriculum called “Common Core”, typical of most public schools, and an alternative “Classic” one favored by charter programs, home-schoolers, and various religious high schools.

Classic learning is grounded in the traditional liberal arts. It emphasizes logic, reasoning, close reading of the great works of literature, philosophy, history, science, and as poet Matthew Arnold put it, “the best that has been thought and said.” The CLT is geared to the Classic approach.

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Despite teachers union opposition, the school choice movement and the number of students taught along classic learning lines is growing. A recent study from the National Center for Research on Education Access and Choice (REACH) confirmed that “[o]n average, charter school students are performing better in reading and math and have higher graduation rates” than students in public schools. Meanwhile, the public-school dominated ACT announced the fifth consecutive year of declining scores. As the organization’s CEO Janet Godwin noted, it reflects “a worrisome trend that began long before the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic and has persisted.”

Little wonder that in the 2020-2021 school year, while public school enrollments declined by one million, nearly 240,000 additional students enrolled in charter schools, a 7% increase year over year.

This growth is highlighted in Florida, which took top spot in The Heritage Foundation’s inaugural 2022 edition of the Education Freedom Report Card. Over the nine school years from 2011-2012 to 2020-21, the state’s charter school enrollment nearly doubled. Growth has been even faster in home-school enrollment. Over the last five years, totals grew by 69%.

And as the Miami Herald reported, “[T]he academic performance in charter schools across the state is better than in traditional public schools (especially for Black and Hispanic students).”  Charter and home-school students typically perform better than public school students on the SAT and ACT tests, too, even when backgrounds are identical.

For admission selection among students who have received a classic curriculum, the SAT and ACT tests are blunt instruments. So more than 200 private colleges and universities accept the CLT, and Florida’s fastest growing Catholic university, Ave Maria University, recently made it the school’s “preferred” college entrance exam for applicants.

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But students typically apply to multiple colleges. So, a student receiving a robust classic education at home or at a charter school is still required to take the SAT or ACT if they want to apply to both their state university and a classic-oriented university (those build around Great Books programs, for example). For state institutions not to accept the CLT puts an unfair testing burden on those who want to set themselves apart when also applying to classically minded programs. Equally in need of correction, many states have competitive scholarship programs (Florida’s Bright Future Scholarship, for example) tied strictly to the SAT and ACT, with the CLT left out.

Such education detours make no sense. Just as Gov. Ron DeSantis quickly removed construction repair detours in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian, he should remove these testing detours, as well. The same can be said of Governor Eric Holcomb (Indiana), Bradley Little (Idaho), Bill Lee (Tennessee), Glenn Youngkin (Virginia) and all pro-students-and-parents governors like them. Whoever makes the first move will set a precedent for other states. For many governors to act will signal a coming of age for the charter school and home-school movements, a straightening and widening of the road to reform and a better education for all students.

Many governors champion school choice. Those same governors should champion their state’s colleges and universities including the Classic Learning Test as an equal option to the SAT and ACT.

Which governor will lead?